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Satellite image of Raiatea (below) and Tahaa
Satellite image of Raiatea (below) and Tahaa
Waters Pacific Ocean
Archipelago Society Islands
Geographical location 16 ° 49 ′  S , 151 ° 26 ′  W Coordinates: 16 ° 49 ′  S , 151 ° 26 ′  W
Raiatea (Society Islands)
length 20 km
width 14 km
surface 194 km²
Highest elevation Mont Toomaru
1032  m
Residents 12,832 (2012)
66 inhabitants / km²
main place Uturoa
Map of Raiatea, with parishes and communes associées
Map of Raiatea, with parishes and communes associées

Raiatea , Polynesian Havai'i , old names Ulietea ( James Cook ), Uriatea ( William Ellis ) and Princess ( Domingo de Boenechea ), is an island in the South Pacific , geographically part of the Society Islands , more precisely to the Leeward Islands ( French Îles Sous-le-vent ) is counted. It is the second largest of the Society Islands and has an area of ​​194 km². Politically, Raiatea belongs to French Polynesia and is located about 220 km northwest of Tahiti , the largest island and administrative center of the archipelago .


Oblique view of Raiatea

Raiatea is an atoll that shares the same coral reef with the neighboring island of Tahaa . The main island is of volcanic origin and consists mainly of igneous rocks . On the fringing reef and in the lagoon there are numerous motus made of white coral sand and debris.

Tahaa extends north of Raiatea, the two islands are separated by a 3 km narrow sound . The forecast for this is the work of a possessed by the spirit of a deceased Princess moray . The boat trip from Raiatea to Tahaa across the lagoon only takes about 20 minutes.

The landscape of Raiatea is characterized by rugged peaks, a strongly rugged coastline with deeply cut bays and numerous small and tiny islands in the lagoon. The most beautiful sandy beaches can be found on these motus, while the rocky coast of Raiatea's main island does not offer any space for beaches worth mentioning. From the peaks, the highest is the Toomaru with 1032 m, steep valleys and gorges open to the sea, which are separated by narrow rock ridges. The numerous flowing waters often form spectacular waterfalls. The east flowing Apoomau River rises at 1017 m high Tefatoatiti and flows into Faaroa Bay. It is the only navigable river in Polynesia and, depending on the water level, can be crossed by small boats for a few kilometers.

The cultivated land and the settlements are located in a narrow coastal strip, the interior of Raiatea is largely uninhabited.


The climate is tropical and humid. The annual average temperature is 26 ° C, whereby the individual months differ only insignificantly. The average annual rainfall is around 1800 mm. The rainiest month is December, but the rains - as usual in the tropics - are heavy and short-lived. The (winter) months of August and September are rather dry.

Flora and fauna

The vegetation of French Polynesia is characterized by two peculiarities: a high proportion of endemic plants and a relative poverty of species. The isolated location of the islands and the fact that they were never connected to a continental land mass explains the high number of endemic plants. In the South Pacific, the plants spread from west to east. This led to the islands' biodiversity decreasing towards the east. The islands of New Guinea and New Caledonia in the west have a much higher number of species than Raiatea. In contrast, the islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago , the Pitcairn Islands and Easter Island in the far east of the Pacific are significantly poorer in species .

In almost 2000 years of settlement history, humans have decisively changed the flora on Raiatea by growing useful plants, especially in the fertile coastal areas. Coconut palms , breadfruit trees , taro , yams , cassava , sweet potatoes and various tropical fruits are cultivated as food plants, including a particularly tasty pineapple . Pineapple fruits and vanilla , which are grown in small family businesses, are exported.

In the inaccessible and lush interior of the island, significant remains of the original vegetation have been preserved, although the indigenous plant communities are now threatened by guava bushes , bamboo thickets and other anthropochoric plants.

Tiare Apetahi

A plant that only grows on Raiatea is the fragrant Tiare Apetahi . It is now very threatened and only grows on Mt. Temehani. The following legend is associated with the yellowish-white, fragrant flower: A princess who died in the arms of her lover promised to always tenderly shake hands with him when he climbed Mt. Tamehani. When he climbed the mountain the next morning, he saw wonderfully fragrant flowers growing everywhere, with five petals reaching out to him like hands. He dug up a plant to plant in the garden in memory of his lover, but it withered after a few days.

The brown-headed parakeet ( Cyanoramphus ulietanus ) was endemic to the bird world . He was discovered by Captain Cook's crew. After an eventful stay in Tahiti, where Captain Cook also witnessed a human sacrifice, he left on September 29, 1777 to explore other islands of the atoll. He first went to the nearby Eimeo (today Maiao ), where he made a short stop, then went to Ulitea (today Raiatea), which is only a few days miles northwest of Tahiti. During his 34-day stay, a unique parrot was collected on the island. At least two copies have been preserved for posterity and are now in the museums of London and Vienna. Unfortunately, there have been no reports of this parakeet's way of life.

While on Raiatea, Cook had the ships Resolution and Discovery beached for urgent maintenance. That may have been enough time for rats, cockroaches, and other vermin to go ashore, and it appears it was they who sealed the doom of the brown-headed parakeet.

Mammals did not originally exist on the Society Islands; they were all introduced by humans. The first Polynesian settlers brought dogs, pigs, chickens and the Pacific rat as food animals, the Europeans brought in goats, cows, sheep and horses. Indigenous land animals are only insects, land crabs, snails and lizards. There are no dangerous animals on Raiatea. Sand fleas on the beach and the mosquitoes that are everywhere in the interior of the island can be uncomfortable .

The marine fauna of the lagoon and the coral reef is very species-rich. In addition to hundreds of different types of coral fish, divers and snorkelers can observe numerous molluscs , echinoderms and crustaceans of the tropical sea. The waters around Raiatea and Tahaa are known for their diverse populations of colorful nudibranchs. In the reefs there are grottos and caves that offer shelter to many marine life. The "octopus grotto" located between Raiatea and Tahaa is known among scuba divers. Behind the fringing reef there are sharks , rays , swordfish and sea ​​turtles .



The settlement of the Society Islands took place according to more recent findings from Samoa and Tonga starting around 200 BC. BC, around the same time as the Marquesas were settled . Together with the Marquesas, they formed the Polynesian heartland and thus the stepping stone to the colonization of Hawaii , New Zealand and Mangareva .

Favored by the geography of Raiatea with the valleys that are bordered by rock ridges and open to the sea, nine independent tribal principalities emerged, which in turn were subdivided into individual clans. This led to a strictly stratified social model, society was divided into several separate social levels. At the top were the ariki or ari'i , the noble chiefs whose claim to leadership was legitimized by their descent from the founding ancestors. They owned land and were the undisputed political and religious leaders.

Marae Taputapuatea
Stone figure at the Marae Taputapuatea

Raiatea soon became the spiritual and religious center of the Society Islands. Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout describes this very clearly :

“The three islands [Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora] even dominated Tahiti, especially Raiatea, which developed into the actual seat of the Polynesian theocracy. There lived the Grand Master of the twelve Arioi lodges, from there came the oracles and prophecies reported in the annals, as well as the taboos and religious rites that were valid in all regions of Polynesia. "

The most important religious site of Raiatea, and indeed of the entire Society Islands, was the Marae Taputapuatea in the Opoa Valley on the east coast. It was initially dedicated to the cult of Ta'aroa (or Tangaloa, Tangaroa ), the god of the sea and fishing. The Ta'aroa ceremony was very complex and included - initially only a few - human sacrifices . From around the 15th century, Oro , the god of war, took the place of Ta'aroa and increasingly demanded human sacrifices. The cult spread to the neighboring islands, especially Tahiti. However, this did not prevent constant acts of war between the tribes, which also served to procure human sacrifices and are glorified in numerous chants that are still recited today.

The Opoa Valley is considered the birthplace of Oro, so the importance of the Marae Taputapuatea increased with the emergence of the secret society of the Arioi in the 17th century.

With the importance of Taputapuatea, the influence of the Tamatoa dynasty from Opoa, which eventually dominated the other tribal principalities, also grew.

In a bloody conflict reported by James Cook, Pouni (or Puni), an Ariki from Bora Bora, raided the neighboring islands of Raiatea and Tahaa. He managed to rise to the rank of overlord for a few years.

Discovery story

Raiatea was discovered for Europe by James Cook on July 20, 1769 during his first voyage. Coming from Tahiti, he drove with the Endeavor through the Avamo'a reef passage, which is sacred to the Polynesians, anchored in Opoa Bay and went ashore near the Marae Taputapuatea. He hoisted the Union Jack and took possession of the island in a brief ceremony for the British Crown.

To expand the Spanish sphere of influence, the Spanish King Charles III ordered. Expeditions to the South Pacific. The governor of Chile and viceroy of Peru Manuel d'Amat i de Junyent (1704–1782) sent Domingo de Boenechea with the frigate El Águila , which reached Raiatea in 1772. He named the island Princess and took possession of it for Spain. The annexation had no political consequences.

While neighboring Tahiti was already under the influence of European powers at the end of the 18th century and also formally came under French protectorate in 1842 , the Raiatea clans put up strong resistance to the annexation efforts. However, the Christian missionaries succeeded in gaining increasing influence, which led to religious wars between followers of the traditional and Christian faith.

With the support of the Europeans, King Pomaré II of Tahiti was able to declare himself sovereign of the entire archipelago. On November 12, 1815, the opponents of Pomarés, the adherents of the old faith, were decisively defeated in the battle of Feipi. In 1828 the Marae Taputapuatea was destroyed. In 1831 the Mamaia sect, the successor to the now banned Arioi, was once again able to drive out the missionaries from Raiatea. In 1832 the Mamaia were finally defeated and banished. The missionaries returned and France increasingly tried to gain influence.

As early as 1842, Rear Admiral Abel Aubert Dupetit-Thouars had raised a claim to the Society Islands for France. However, France's King Louis Philippe was initially reluctant to sign the annexation announced by Du Petit-Thouars because he feared conflicts of interest with Great Britain, which was also making claims. Since Queen Pomaré IV of Tahiti was friendly to the British and more connected to the Protestant missionaries, in this unclear situation she was brought to Raiatea in 1844 and ruled from there until 1847.

In 1880 France proclaimed the provisional protectorate over Raiatea and Tahaa. After Pomaré V had ceded all his rights to France, the Society Islands were finally annexed in March 1888 and became a French colony. However, riots continued on Raiatea. In 1888 the tribal chief Teraupo holed up in the Avera Valley on the east coast and resisted the French intervention. It was not until 1897 that he was captured and exiled to New Caledonia . 190 of his followers were forcibly moved with their families to Ua Huka .

Politics and administration

Politically, Raiatea is now part of French Polynesia . The island is French overseas territory and thus associated with the EU . It is administered by a subdivision ( Subdivision administrative des Îles Sous-le-Vent ) of the High Commission of French Polynesia ( Haut-commissariat de la République en Polynésie française ) based in Papeete .

Politically, Raiatea is divided into the three independent communities Commune d'Uturoa, Commune Taputapuatea and Commune de Tumaraa.

local community Residents Sub-municipalities (Communes associées)
Uturoa 4174 -
Taputapuatea 4837 Avera, Opoa, Puohine
Tumaraa 3821 Tevaitoa, Tehurui, Vaiaau, Fetuna

Raiatea has a total of 12,832 inhabitants, the population density is 66 inhabitants / km².

The official language is French. The currency is (still) the CFP franc, which is linked to the euro . The administrative budget of the Society Islands is largely subsidized with funds from France and the EU.

The main town is the village of Uturoa in the north, which is also the administrative and economic center.

Infrastructure and traffic

The villages stretch along the narrow coastal strip and are accessed with a 97 km long, paved ring road. Only a few unpaved roads and footpaths lead into the interior of the island. A public bus, Le Truck , a truck that has been converted into a bus, operates on the ring road . There is no fixed timetable or stops, the bus stops when and where the passengers want it.

Raiatea Airport (Aéroport de Raiatea) is located on the northern edge of the island near Uturoa, with its 1,400 m long runway, mostly heaped in the sea. It replaces the 400 m long unpaved slope on the Motu Nao Nao in the south.

Uturoa has a quay where large cruise ships can moor.

The place has a modern infrastructure with a gendarmerie station, doctor, dentist, a small hospital, banks (with account machine), post office (with telephone for international connections), schools and a supermarket.


Although there are several hotels up to the luxury class on the island, Raiatea is more tranquil and less touristy than Tahiti and Bora Bora. Raiatea is particularly attractive for ocean sailors. There are several yacht charter companies, and the island is often referred to as the sailing center of Polynesia. At Uturoa and in Baie Faaroa to the west there are marinas with a good infrastructure. The island is visited by cruise ships from time to time .


The somewhat sleepy-looking main town Uturoa offers no special sights. A few years ago, the reception terminal at the harbor was redesigned for cruise tourists, a small park was created and the forecourt was paved with multi-colored natural stones from the island. Craftsmen from Portugal have laid the particularly beautiful patterns in the traditional Portuguese style . The Botanical Garden of Uturoa is interesting with many rare, exotic plants.

The main attraction of Raiatea is undoubtedly the place of worship Taputapuatea. It comprises several cult platforms ( marae ) that were originally distributed in a sacred grove surrounded by taboos . Several of the plants have been restored. The largest platform was built in the early 17th century from huge, upright limestone slabs and is dedicated to the god of war Oro.

There are other important ceremonial sites on the island. Another large cult platform lies in the Avera Valley, north of Opoa on the east coast. In the vicinity, remains of residential buildings and workshops for stone tools have been discovered during archaeological excavations. The Tainuu cult site on the northwest coast is also well preserved. In addition to the imposing plates of coral rock that demarcated the marae, petroglyphs have also been preserved here. In the 19th century, the missionaries built a church on the site, sacred to the Polynesians.

An interesting destination for scuba divers is the wreck of the Nordby , a Danish three- master that sank around 1900. The very well preserved wreck is about 20 m deep not far from the Hotel Pearl Beach Resort on the northeast coast.

Web links

Commons : Raiatea  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica . In some websites and travel guides, the 1017 m high Tefatoatiti is named as the highest mountain.
  2. Also written Tefaoaiti, also Tefatula on historical maps
  3. Patrick V. Kirch: On the Road of the Wind - An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact ; Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 2000; P. 231
  4. JA Moerenhout: Voyages aux îles du Grand Océan. Paris 1837. English translation: Travels to the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Lanham, London 1983, p. 539.
  5. JA Moerenhout: Voyages aux îles du Grand Océan. Paris 1837. English translation: Travels to the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Lanham, London 1983, p. 540.
  6. a b Karl R. Wernhart: Effects of civilization activities and missionary work in the cultures of the autochthons using the example of the Society Islands. In: Grete Klingenstein et al. (Ed.): Europeanization of the earth? Studies on the impact of Europe on the non-European world, Oldenbourg Verlag Munich 1981
  7. ^ Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann: Arioi and Mamaia ; Wiesbaden 1955; P. 247 f.
  8. ^ Karl von den Steinen : The Marquesans and their art , Berlin 1925, Volume 1, p. 12
  9. Art. 198 TFEU
  10. TFEU Annex II.
  11. - ( Memento of the original from March 16, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.polynesie-francaise.pref.gouv.fr
  12. ^ Institut Statistique de Polynésie Française (ISPF) Recensement de la population 2012